Album review: -isq: too

isq_tooWhy did I love this album the moment I heard it? The album is Too by -isq and let’s get the acronyms and wordplay out of the way – isq stands for Irene Serra Quartet.  And the Too of the title refers to their second album.  So that’s done, now why do I love it?  For a while I have thought of  singer-songwriter Irene Serra as the London equivalent of  Silje Nergaard, whose stellar band was made up of the then Tord Gustavsen Trio (with the greatly missed Harald Johnsen and Jarle Vespestad).  The delicacy of support and phrasing that Silje commanded  in her band was unsurpassed for a singer who nearly made it big in pop, who totally charmed us with her “Be still my heart” and “How am I supposed to see the stars”.

So when I first came across Irene with her composition “Unforgettable You” (not on the album) I was immediately reminded of Silje.   But this is no copy, although her band is every bit as skillful and moving as that with Silje, we have moved into darker territory with Irene, whose tragic, sultry voice is more suited to our times, and is the voice we all want – passionate, vulnerable, fragile yet strong, without a trace of regret.

The album consists of eight of Irene’s compositions. Each is striking, self aware, all are about love, or loss of it, or complicated love, there are no happy endings here.  The tempos are like a girl skipping down the street, sometimes fast, sometimes slowing down, turning round to look at us thoughtfully and then moving on.  The final track  “Light and Shade” is defiant, yet tip toes away, the perfect way to leave us, no looking back. Highly recommended.

Touring right now, catch her and be entranced!

isq are:

  • Irene Serra, vocals
  • Richard Sadler, double bass
  • Chris Nickolls, drums
  • John Crawford, piano

http://www.isqmusic.com/

Mary James, 1 April 2015

Album review: Jakob Sørensen: Bagland

BaglandWhat a beautiful album cover!  Bagland is the serene and haunting debut album from Danish trumpeter and composer Jakob Sørensen. It’s grounded in his Scandinavian roots (the title means support from back home)  yet it transcends the dark melancholy of that genre with warm elegant melodies and effortless ensemble playing. Just as Babette’s sumptuous feast triumphed over the bleak landscape and even bleaker lives of her guests in Babette’s Feast  (enlightening them physically and emotionally), so Jakob’s clear, supple and joyous tone lends a golden light to this windswept terrain, making it a very inviting place to spend some time.

All the compositions are by Jakob. They are very striking, with a gentle lilt that makes them slip by effortlessly, dreamily – they are so polished and deceptively simple – and showcase Jakob’s flawless command of all registers.   A feeling of calmness and contentedness is a hallmark of the Scandinavian sound.  And I’d add lyricism, amply demonstrated in the soaring trumpet, the songlike guitar which floats, tinkly percussive effects like wind in the rigging of a sailing boat.  There are so many treats on this album, the melodies prompt so many images –  the pleasure of riding a horse along the shore, or being  wrapped in a fur coat.  Particularly attractive is the guitar of Alex Jønsson (other albums here and here) whose expressiveness and delicacy are the perfect foil to Jakob’s trumpet.

Well worth a listen – as is just about everything out of Aarhus Academy!

Jakob Sørensen – trumpet
Alex Jønsson – guitar
Mathias Jæger – piano
Frederik Sakham – doublebass
Frej Lesner – drums
Nellie Parsager Jensen – Clarinet
Sofie Kirk Østergaard – Clarinet

http://www.baglandquintet.com/

Mary James 16 February 2015

Bands I’d like to introduce you to: Hashima Jazz Quartet, Belgrade, Serbia

Hashima_housesOur taxi driver could not find the venue – it was the Blind Club near the bus station in Belgrade.  So we missed what turned out to be a great gig by a band we’d not heard of – Hashima. Our companion said the band had a great guitarist –  Igor Mišković –  and so our appetites were whetted only to be dashed by dark unnamed streets. The irony of a club for blind people being hard to find was not lost on us.

So I’m now glad to hear what I missed.   The band’s name Hashima is taken from the abandoned Japanese island Hashima, whose ghostly and decaying  housing complexes (pictured above)  are salutary reminders of the transience of all things manmade.  The band grew out of poems inspired by the island written by Igor, the inspiration of the Belgrade Jazz Festival, the ideal of free improvisation especially within a quartet,  and discussions about cinematography by Tarkovski and Resnais.  The band’s backgrounds include free improv, folklore music, fim production,  jazz and classical training. The result is something very beautiful, harmonious, mysterious and visual with Eastern influences that make the east stretch from Serbia to Japan, from Balkan folk to Japanese stringed instruments. There is a dreamlike quality to the easy and equal interaction of the band members.  There is a delight in sounds – perhaps that sounds odd – but the landscape created sometimes has elements of noise abutting a delicate and serene and rather macabre dance, if you ponder the inspiration of Hashima.

The composition below, recorded at that concert,  is an interpretation of a dance by Vasilije Mokranjac whose mysterious, untimely and premature death adds poignancy to this delightfully serpentine and sensuous rendition.  It would be great to see them live!

Hashima are:
  • Srđan Mijalković  – tenor saxophone
  • Igor Mišković – semi acoustic guitar
  • Aleksandar Hristić – drums
  • Vanja Todorović – double bass

http://thehashima.com/

Mary James 9 February 2015

Album review: Live Foyn Friis: Running Heart (CLP CD 138)

LiveFoynFriisRunningHeartI have enjoyed Norwegian born, Denmark-based singer songwriter Live Foyn Friis’s charming, quirky voice (it is clear and natural with a delicate vibrato) and poetic lyrics for a while. The fact that she continues with her top notch band on her album Running Heart is an added attraction. She is joined by Alex Jønsson on guitar (and Thom Yorke-like vocals too), Jens Mikkel on bass and Andreas Skamby on percussion, with layers added by a cello (played by Maria Isabel Edlund), kalimba, organ, additional vocals and a euphonium. The wonderful thing about Scandinavian jazz-pop-electronica is that they are not afraid to play under-used instruments like banjos (in this case, a euphonium and kalimba), and the catchiness of tunes disguises complex interesting music which belies the label “pop”.  Her band all played with great gusto and joy on I Think You’re Awesome and do so again here with her.

More electronic than her other work Live Foyn Friis with Strings, this album of own compositions, all love songs, is sophisticated, dark and haunting.  Live has many projects from Big Band to Foyn Trio! (improvised pop) and an enviable list of bands and collaborations. She is touring South America now, and her website mentions a tour of Angola in 2017.  The battery of sounds and effects creates an ethereal, fairytale disorientation which will go down very well in large venues, and it would be great to see her in the UK.

Running Heart is released on Curling Legs.

Mary James  17 January 2015

Album review: Roller Trio: Fracture (released December 2014)

Roller_Trio_FractureJust three words will do – stonking unforgettable tunes! But more than that – the long-awaited second album, Fracture, from Mercury Prize and MOBO nominated Roller Trio was worth the wait and the band can be rightly very proud of it.  The album is beautifully structured, with early tracks sounding like Roller Trio of old (cracking good tunes, lightning riffs, snappy changes of tempo, crashes and growls, that unmistakable warm sound) moving on to some more abstract pieces which have a serenity of mood and togetherness at their core that is very beautiful.  The ghostly and menacing  Low Tide  is surely destined to be expanded into a movie soundtrack?   They can slow it right down as in the pulsating, shimmering Tracer where the space allows you to savour each instrument and sound effect.

Roller_Trio_by_Tom_Thiel1Play this album loud! And see them live, like Portico before them, they are made for large venues – we probably won’t ever again see Saturn V rocket take-offs  for the moon – but Roller Trio are the next best thing for sending a shiver down your spine!

★★★★★

Mary James 12 January 2015

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